A couple weeks ago, I tweeted my frustration with all the recent changes with Instagram. Last week, the company backtracked. Cause. Effect.
Fine, maybe some messages that went viral by way of the Kardashians had a bit more to do with it. Or everything to do with it. Still, my tweet went viral on my own, far smaller scale. And really, this is all a part of a continuing drumbeat of frustration over what Meta (née Facebook) has done to our sweet, innocent photo sharing app.
I was the 28th user of Instagram.¹ Yes, twenty eight. This seems WILD for a service that now has well over a billion active users. But I sort of lucked into it, as the first person to cover the company back when I was a tech reporter.² Unlike many, I wasn’t upset (nor did I think it was insane) when Facebook acquired the company. It seemed to me like a very savvy move by the social network. And it was, obviously.
But there was always the risk they would meddle. And given a long enough time horizon, such meddling is inevitable. Things were good for a few years, with Instagram running independently but powered by all the things Facebook was uniquely good at. Then things started to get less good. The co-founders left. The product quickly started morphing from that point forward. The move to launch Stories in the image of Snap proved smart. A few other tweaks were annoying, but understandable.
But now in the midst of a much larger assault from TikTok, Instagram doth pivot too much.
The problem, of course, is that Instagram is not TikTok. Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian made this point, and it’s absolutely true. The company could make Stories happen because it was a direct translation from what Instagram was already doing — sharing images. Even some of the video things made some sense. Instagram will (and is) telling us this is now the dominant form of content on IG, and I’m sure that’s true. That doesn’t make it right.
And I think that has directly led to all of this frustration. Instagram in 2022 is just a complete Frankenstein’s Monster of a product. It looks more like Microsoft Office with menus and buttons galore than the simple mobile photo-sharing network that it was.
Instagram would, and again, is saying this was a necessary and natural evolution. I think both points are debatable, but it was their prerogative to go down these paths if they so chose. Users are always going to be pissed when you change anything see also: the entire history of Facebook, from the News Feed forward.
The key, of course, is making the right decisions. Data can deceive in these regards. And I truly believe it has here. All of the data indicate that Meta should make Instagram more like TikTok. But I would contend that in doing so, they’re shredding the soul of a beloved product to become something they won’t be able to compete with.
And that brings us back to the point above. Stories worked because it directly translated into what Instagram was already trying to be at its core. Video itself might to some degree. But TikTok is not actually a social network. It’s a content discovery network. It’s not Social Media, it’s “Recommendation Media” as my friend Michael Mignano calls it.
Meta, to their credit, understands this. And they’re more or less acknowledging that they’re trying to pivot Instagram (and Facebook itself!) into such a network. Less about friends, more about recommended content. All because of TikTok. I mean they’ll say it’s bigger than that, that this is the future of content or whatnot. But it’s all because of TikTok.
And again, I don’t think it will work. I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am. First and foremost because I know what my eyes and heart tell me. And that’s that this once beautifully simple product is now a total shitshow. It’s like Meta decided to take the shedded skin of a caterpillar and tried to shove a python inside of it. The content, by and large, is still pretty good. But the product sucks to use to varying degrees. It’s beyond bloated. Certainly if you’re into photography. Which again, we get it, that’s not the priority anymore. But if that’s truly the case, strip it out! Rip off the band-aid!
To me, the most infuriating of all the recent infuriating news bits about Instagram was that they would be allowing anyone to remix your photos and turn them into Reels. In fact, everything will be Reels. The sort of lame TikTok clone which is largely filled with copied TikTok content. I mean what the fuck is that? I literally didn’t sign up for that. But I was opted-in to it!
What I’m about to propose never works and sometimes backfires — hello, Qwikster — but I would try it anyway: give us a second service. Take all the old school photo stuff and put it in a new/old app. Maybe even let it retain the Instagram name. The new full-on Instagram-as-TikTok app would then be “IG”. Viral memes. Crazy video shit. All algos all the time. Have at it. Just leave our photos out of it. Literally!
Again, it won’t work. But I’m desperate here. Newer services like Glass are nice — really nice! But aren’t quite the same because they don’t have that Instagram network of all my friends and family. It’s probably too much to ask that they move over, sadly. Instagram can manually move all those folks over into my OG IG — sorry, Instagram — app.
And they should. I get that we, the old school users of Instagram don’t matter any more. I really, honestly, get that. But we’re lingering on the hope that Meta fails in their latest Instagram pivot and goes back to the basics. We’re too far removed from that. Even if it fails — honestly, even if it succeeds — in cloning TikTok, Meta’s next move will be to copy whatever comes up next. And something will. Something always does.
This speaks to a broader problem with the company. They just copy and clone non-stop — here’s Instagram’s BeReal, OF COURSE — and so the actual soul of whatever they were is fading with each passing day. Even when the cloning works, it fades and fades and fades. So goes Instagram, into the sunset.
¹ Maybe even a slightly lower user number? I’m not sure if there were test accounts. That’s just my ID number!